Seeing the City from 31st and Chicago
Mount Olive is located on the near south side of Minneapolis, just off Lake Street between the Midtown Exchange and Powderhorn Park. The church is surrounded by some of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in the Twin Cities. Mexican and Somali markets now share the retail scene with Ingebretson’s, the long-standing Norwegian deli. A host of other specialty shops have appeared in recent years, most of them with a Latino flavor. A wide variety of new housing has been added, including pricy condos at the Midtown Exchange. Corporate neighbors include Allina, Wells Fargo Mortgage and a “medical ally” of hospitals including Abbott Northwestern, Children’s and Phillips Eye Institute.
After struggling in the 1980s and ‘90s, the neighborhood has rebounded and stabilized, although poverty has not disappeared.
AN EVOLUTIONARY JOURNEY TO SOCIAL MINISTRY
Mount Olive took root in a working class neighborhood stocked with people of northern and eastern European backgrounds. The insular nature of Missouri Synod Lutheranism in the early 1900s deflected any interest in caring for the needy beyond the doors of the church.
The Great Depression began to change that view in the 1930s as Mount Olive endured its own hardships. World War II further broadened the understanding of peoples’ physical and spiritual needs, both around the world and around the corner. The arrival of the Rev. Alton Wedel in 1962 sealed the deal: Mount Olive’s focus on “personal salvation” was turned on its head. “Without a social welfare program… we are but sounding brass and tinkling cymbal,” he declared.
A NEW DIRECTION
Quite suddenly, local needs were plain to see. The church’s white, middle class neighbors were flocking to the suburbs, where most of them found new places to worship. Members who stayed were driving, not walking, to church. By the late 1960s, Mount Olive had become an inner-city parish surrounded by poverty and a growing minority population, including refugees from war-torn regions. In the early 1970s, the congregation sponsored families fleeing Vietnam, Laos and Uganda.
Mount Olive’s defection from the conservative Missouri Synod in 1976 further bolstered its progressive direction, and Donna Neste's arrival as neighborhood ministries coordinator in 1984 solidified the outreach program. There was plenty of work to do. By the early 1990s the neighborhood hit bottom, with nearby blocks of Lake Street and Powderhorn Park becoming notorious hotspots for prostitution and crack cocaine sales.
A REMARKABLE TURNAROUND
Then came the turnaround. It has been remarkable, perhaps one of the nation’s most successful urban revitalization efforts. Through the Phillips Partnership, the city, along with foundations and key business leaders, invested hundreds of millions of dollars in jobs, training programs, housing, low-interest loans and better policing methods. Crime dropped dramatically. Immigrant businesses sprouted. The abandoned Sears “castle” on Lake Street was renovated as an ethnic market, a corporate headquarters and a condo tower. A new hotel, the Hiawatha light rail line, the Midtown Greenway bicycle trail and a growing “medical alley” along Chicago Avenue have brought new vitality and safety to the district.
Poverty has not entirely disappeared, however. The economy’s collapse in 2008 brought a new sense of instability, reflected by the growing numbers showing up at Mount Olive’s monthly Community Meal. Mount Olive’s devotion to living out our faith in Christ by serving those around us is stronger than ever.
Learn more about serving opportunities with Mount Olive.
“Know that whoever you are, you will be warmly welcomed.”
former pastor of Mount Olive